CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago is rich in black history – with Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable as the first settler, Harold Washington as the first black mayor, and Barack Obama going on to become the first black president.
Yet, some children in Beverly were given an assignment to write about an African animal. And as parents told CBS 2’s Jermont Terry Tuesday night, it was the ultimate disrespect.
Valeisha Manning on Tuesday was reading to her children about important historical black figures – like singer and dancer Josephine Baker, who was the first African-American to star in a major motion picture – the 1927 silent film “Siren of the Tropics,” and who went on to aid the French Resistance during World War II after moving to France.
But when Manning’s kindergartner, Raeghan, came home from Sutherland Elementary School with a Black History Month assignment, her mother was in disbelief.
This is what the assignment said:
“We are celebrating African American history month in various ways at Sutherland this month! Since our students have a genuine interest in animals and love to learn about them, we are going to take a closer look at African animals.”
It came printed on a sheet of paper with printed images of a zebra, an elephant, a leopard, and a cartoon giraffe across the top.
The kindergarten teachers at Sutherland Elementary, 10015 S. Leavitt St., opted to celebrate Black History Month by having the students learn about African animals, rather than about people.
“African animals have no place in black history,” Manning said.
Manning was furious to know the assignment made it through three teachers and the principal – and into her child’s backpack.
“They need to know we are necessary,” Manning said. “This does not say your child and your child’s history is necessary, and that’s my issue.”
It was an issue that other parents shared at Tuesday night’s Local School Council meeting at Sutherland. The meeting was closed to our cameras, but when CBS 2 reached out to CPS, it replied with a letter from the Principal Meg Burns that was sent to parents:
The letter read:
“It has been brought to Sutherland administration’s attention that an assignment was distributed in Kindergarten that did not reflect the depth and honor with which the Sutherland kindergarten team has approached their learning throughout African American History month. The assignment specifically mentions a student choice investigation of African animals, which administration recognizes is not directly connected to the breadth of instruction and learning that has been taking place this past month. Additionally, it was reported to administration by parents that the animal choice provided for students was insensitive and inappropriate given that this assignment was articulated as connected to the learning of African American history.
“Throughout this month, the children have been engaged in thoughtful, reflective and meaningful activities that support their understanding of the tremendous sacrifice and great works of our African American heroes. This was not one of them.
The team will be sending home a new assignment on Tuesday that is directly connected to the African American History curriculum that has been an anchor of instruction and celebration this past month.
“We apologize for any concerns or offense this may have brought to our parents and assure our families that administration will be working closely with our team to ensure that our future assignments are reflective of our principles of equity and our commitment to our diverse and inclusive community.”
Manning had some questions about the “team” the letter referenced.
She said if it is the same team that approved the assignment in the first place, “Then where are we at? We’re at ground zero.”
And while the Chicago Public Schools and the principal offered an apology, CPS has not said if the teachers who came up with the assignment have been reprimanded or face disciplinary actions.